A NO-PORK DIET FOR WASHINGTON
The budget deficit is shrinking: The Clinton Administration, using figures from the Office of Management & Budget, predicts the shortfall for fiscal 1996 will come in at $117 billion, or $29 billion below forecast. But the good news disguises a disappointing trend. It's turning out to be far harder than expected to cut "corporate welfare"--expensive subsidies and tax breaks such as gasohol supports and the Agriculture Dept.'s underwriting of overseas advertisements for agribusiness giants. According to a new study from the Cato Institute, Congress and the President managed to cut less than $3 billion, or 14%, of the $19.5 billion annual cost of the 35 largest corporate-subsidy programs.
Now it's time to try a new way to cut corporate subsidies. A proposal by Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.) would set up a federal commission to take on corporate welfare. It would be modeled on the military base-closing commission, which has successfully eliminated superfluous bases across the country that had previously been politically untouchable. Rather than trying to isolate and kill individual programs, the panel would spend a year putting together a list of subsidies and tax loopholes to cut. Congress and the President would then have to accept or reject the entire package.
McCain's idea has its flaws. Congressional supporters of science want to ensure that basic research isn't tossed out along with corporate welfare. And the need for an unelected commission confirms the lack of political leadership. But subsidies and tax breaks that benefit specific companies and industries are bad for business and bad for the economy--just as they are bad for the budget. Both parties agree that corporate welfare has to go. The pork-busting commission is one piece of legislation Congress must pass before its members go home to boast about their budget-cutting credentials.